Nuclear Program of Iran - Laptop and Research & Development in Nuclear Weapons

Laptop and Research & Development in Nuclear Weapons

The continuing controversy over Iran's nuclear program revolves in part around allegations of nuclear studies by Iran with possible military applications until 2003, when, according to the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, the program was ended. The allegations, which include claims that Iran had engaged in high-explosives testing, sought to manufacture "green salt" (UF4) and to design a nuclear-capable missile warhead, were based on information obtained from a laptop computer which was allegedly retrieved from Iran in 2004. The US presented some of the alleged contents of the laptop in 2005 to an audience of international diplomats, though the laptop and the full documents contained in it have yet to be given to the IAEA for independent verification. According to the New York Times:

Nonetheless, doubts about the intelligence persist among some foreign analysts. In part, that is because American officials, citing the need to protect their source, have largely refused to provide details of the origins of the laptop computer beyond saying that they obtained it in mid-2004 from a longtime contact in Iran. Moreover, this chapter in the confrontation with Iran is infused with the memory of the faulty intelligence on Iraq's unconventional arms. In this atmosphere, though few countries are willing to believe Iran's denials about nuclear arms, few are willing to accept the United States' weapons intelligence without question. "I can fabricate that data," a senior European diplomat said of the documents. "It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt.

On 21 August 2007, Iran and the IAEA finalized an agreement, titled "Understandings of The Islamic Republic of Iran and the IAEA on the Modalities of Resolution of the Outstanding Issues," that listed outstanding issues regarding Iran's nuclear program and set out a timetable to resolve each issue in order. These unresolved issues included the status of Iran's uranium mine at Gchine, allegations of experiments with plutonium and uranium metal, and the use of Polonium 210. Specifically regarding the "Alleged Studies", the Modalities agreement asserted that while Iran considers the documents to be fabricated, Iran would nevertheless address the allegations "upon receiving all related documents" as a goodwill gesture. The Modalities Agreement specifically said that aside from the issues identified in the document, there were "no other remaining issues and ambiguities regarding Iran's past nuclear program and activities."

The United States was opposed to the Modalities Agreement between Iran and the IAEA, and vehemently objected to it, accusing Iran of "manipulating" IAEA. Olli Heinonen, the IAEA Deputy Director General for safeguards underlined the importance of the Iran-IAEA agreement as a working arrangement on how to resolve the outstanding issues that triggered Security Council resolutions:

All these measures which you see there for resolving our outstanding issues go beyond the requirements of the Additional Protocol ... If the answers are not satisfactory, we are making new questions until we are satisfied with the answers and we can conclude technically that the matter is resolved—it is for us to judge when we think we have enough information. Once the matter is resolved, then the file is closed.

Following the implementation of the Modalities Agreement, the IAEA issued another report on the status of Iran's nuclear program on 22 February 2008. According to this report, the IAEA had no evidence of a current, undeclared nuclear program in Iran, and all of the remaining issues listed in the Modalities Agreement regarding past undeclared nuclear activities had been resolved, with the exception of the "Alleged Studies" issue. Regarding this report, IAEA director ElBaradei specifically stated:

e have made quite good progress in clarifying the outstanding issues that had to do with Iran's past nuclear activities, with the exception of one issue, and that is the alleged weaponization studies that supposedly Iran has conducted in the past. We have managed to clarify all the remaining outstanding issues, including the most important issue, which is the scope and nature of Iran's enrichment programme.

The US had made some of the "Alleged Studies" documentation available to the IAEA just a week prior to the issuance of the IAEA's February 2008 report on Iran's nuclear program. According to the IAEA report itself, the IAEA had "not detected the use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies, nor does it have credible information in this regard." Some diplomats reportedly dismissed the new allegations as being "of doubtful value ... relatively insignificant and coming too late."

It was reported on 3 March 2008, that Olli Heinonen, the IAEA Deputy Director general of safeguards, had briefed diplomats about the contents of the "Alleged Studies" documents a week earlier. Reportedly, Heinonen added that the IAEA had obtained corroborating information from the intelligence agencies of several countries, that pointed to sophisticated research into some key technologies needed to build and deliver a nuclear bomb.

In April 2008, Iran reportedly agreed to address the sole outstanding issue of the "Alleged Studies" However, according to the subsequent May 2008 IAEA report, the IAEA was not able to actually provide these same "Alleged Studies" documents to Iran, because the IAEA did not have the documents itself or was not allowed to share them with Iran. For example, in paragraph 21, the IAEA report states: "Although the Agency had been shown the documents that led it to these conclusions, it was not in possession of the documents and was therefore unfortunately unable to make them available to Iran." Also, in paragraph 16, the IAEA report states: "The Agency received much of this information only in electronic form and was not authorised to provide copies to Iran." The IAEA has requested that it be allowed to share the documents with Iran. Nevertheless, according the report, Iran may have more information on the alleged studies which "remain a matter of serious concern" but the IAEA itself had not detected evidence of actual design or manufacture by Iran of nuclear weapons or components.

Iran's refusal to respond to the IAEA's questions unless it is given access to the original documents has caused a standoff. In February 2008, the New York Times reported that the U.S. refusal to provide access to those documents was a source of friction between the Bush Administration and then Director General ElBaradei. ElBaradei later noted that these documents could not be shared because of the need to protect sources and methods, but noted that this allowed Iran to question their authenticity. According to Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, "The government of the United States has not handed over original documents to the agency since it does not in fact have any authenticated document and all it has are forged documents."

The IAEA has requested that third-parties allow it to share the documents on the alleged studies with Iran. The IAEA has further stated that though it has not provided full documents containing the alleged studies, information from other countries has corroborated some of the allegations, which appear to the IAEA to be consistent and credible, and that Iran should therefore address the alleged studies even without obtaining the full documents. However, questions about the authenticity of the documents persist, with claims that the documents were obtained either from Israel or the MEK, an Iranian dissident group officially considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States, and that investigations into the alleged studies are intended to reveal intelligence about Iran's conventional weapons programs. Some IAEA officials have requested a clear statement be made by the agency that it could not affirm the documents' authenticity. They cite that as a key document in the study had since been proven to have been fraudulently altered, it put in doubt the entire collection.

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